Food News

Reaction to New Calorie Labeling Requirements Has Been Mixed

Image Credit: From Left to Right: Lauren Volvo/Kitchn; Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

I was in Copenhagen last week and, when I opened my menu at a highly recommended burger joint, I noticed that the calorie count was printed just after each item's description. It didn't matter if it was a main course, a side dish, or even one of the mayo-based dipping sauces for the fries — the calories were all right there in a matching typeface.

For me, those numbers acted as more of a challenge (which, spoiler alert, I rose to meet) than a deterrent. I honestly found those three- and four-digit calorie calculations to be way less off-putting than the prices (another spoiler: Denmark is expensive).

Starting this week, American customers are going to face a similar set of numbers the next time they go to a restaurant or order takeout. Federal rules now require any restaurant, grocery store (grab-and-go items), or convenience store with more than 20 locations to print calorie counts — so there goes the blissful ignorance of downing two or three gas station taquitos while you wait to fill your tank.

Reaction to New Calorie Labeling Is Mixed

According to The Washington Post, the reaction to the new labeling requirements has been mixed. Public health groups think they'll encourage diners to make more healthy choices, but those in the restaurant industry have grumbled through the process, due to the expense of having their entrees analyzed and having new menus and signage printed.

"I think providing basic information about the healthy attributes of food is important for consumers to make informed choices about their diet," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Post. "We know that providing calorie information on menu labels actually inspires consumers to make smarter choices about overall consumption, when they want to. It does reduce overall caloric intake."

But does it? I mean, everyone knows that Big Macs are zero percent good for you, but we still inhale them on the reg. (That's the collective "we" and not just me ... but it's also me, too.)

Gottlieb believes that it will "start a competition" between restaurants to see who can design the healthiest options — but that also requires those options to be officially evaluated, and might necessitate another round of new menus, so we'll see how that works.

The Loopholes and Skepticism Surrounding the New Labeling Requirements

There are a lot of weird loopholes, like the idea that limited-time specials are exempt from the requirements, and the "more than 20 locations" thing means that your fave locally owned spot might not have to comply — and neither will the high-dollar prix-fixe joints. And pizza provides its own separate kind of complication, due to the number of ways your pie can be customized, from the crust to the toppings.

There is some skepticism in the responses on Reddit's r/LoseIt post about it, mostly about whether a restaurant's calorie count will be accurate — especially at places like Chipotle where the servings aren't standardized. "It's definitely eye-opening. It definitely made me take a step back a few times and go 'Nope, not ordering that,'" one commenter from Seattle — where this is already in effect — said. "Especially when you go to a place and see the salad has 2700 calories, and a burger and fries is around 900. It just makes you scratch your head and go 'Why is it like this?'"

On the bright side, at least it gives you an excuse to order the burger.

What do you think about the new calorie labeling requirements?